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US jobless claims

January 09, 2009 | "Barron’s Econoday"

In a report that sends mixed signals for Friday's jobs data, initial jobless claims fell a steep 24,000 in the Jan. 3 week to a 467,000 level that is, significantly, more than 50,000 below expectations. Another positive is that improvement in the prior week was not revised away, showing a 98,000 drop to 491,000 (492,000 initially reported). The 4-week average also improved, down 27,000 to 525,750.

Now the bad news. Continuing claims continue to swell, up 101,000 to 4.611 million for the worst level since 1982. The 4-week average rose 45,000 to 4.470 million, also the highest level since 1982.

The holiday season with its shortened weeks and heavy weather effects always makes jobless claims data difficult to read, but the Labor Department said there are no special factors in the latest report. There was no significant reaction to the report which nevertheless may raise suspicions that calls for a massive decline in Friday's payroll data may be excessive.

Market Consensus Before Announcement

Initial jobless claims for the week ending December 27 surprisingly fell a sharp 94,000 to 492,000. The 94,000 drop is the largest weekly drop in 17 years. Because of adjustment factors surrounding the Christmas holiday (including a four day work week), however, the four-week average at 552,250 is a much better gauge which, next only to the prior week, remains at the highest level so far in the recession.

Jobless Claims Consensus Forecast for 1/3/09: 540,000
Range: 490,000 to 580,000


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